Minnesota Women's Hockey: This Feels Familiar-NCAA Frozen Four Preview

The Gophers are ready for this weekend's NCAA Frozen Four - Minnesota Women's Hockey Facebook Page

The Gophers will be trying to win their third consecutive National Championship.

The University of Minnesota's Women's Hockey team will attempt to win their third consecutive National Championship at the NCAA Women's Frozen Four in Hamden, Connecticut. The Gophers first foe in the NCAA semi-finals will be a familiar one, the archival Wisconsin Badgers. The winner of the first semi-final will play the winner of Clarkson and Mercyhurst in the NCAA Championship game on Sunday afternoon.

The Gophers come into the weekend as the extreme favorite. They are 37-1-1 on the season, and have been the unanimous #1 team in the nation from the pre-season poll to the current poll. The Gophers have both the #1 offense and defense in the nation, and have the nation's leading scorer in Hannah Brandt. However, they will see a very familiar foe who knows all their secrets when they face-off Friday afternoon at 4:00 Central time.

The Gophers have beaten the Badgers ten straight times, including the 2012 National Championship Game. It's obvious Wisconsin would love to do nothing but ruin the Gopher's season. The Gophers average 4.7 goals per game on the season, but that number drops to 2.7 in games against the Badgers, and a major reason why is senior goalie Alex Rigsby. Rigsby who was named a 1st team All-American Thursday night won her 100th career game in the NCAA Quarterfinal victory over Harvard. She is third in the nation with a 1.17 goals against average, and has a spectacular 95% save percentage. The Gophers have scored 11 goals against Rigsby in their four wins over the Badgers this season, and know that they have to get on the board early against the swarming Badger defense.

The Badger offense is led by Junior Forward Brittany Ammerman who scored 43 points with 22 goals on the season for UW. Junior Blayre Turnbull also has 40 points for the Badgers. They will have to try and get pucks past Gopher goalie Amanda Leveille who has been stellar in the net for the Gophers. Leveille has a 1.07 goals against average and a 95% save percentage. She has only allowed more than one goal to the Badgers once, in a 3-2 Gopher win in Madison in February. If Leveille can remain hot, and keep the puck out of the net, the Gophers will be nearly unstoppable. Whatever happens, do not expect a blowout. This will most likely be a one goal game and come down to the final seconds.

In their pre-tournament press conference on Thursday, Gopher Coach Brad Frost, Brandt, and senior captain Bethany Brausen talked about Wisconsin and what they would have to do to be ready to face the Badgers for a fifth time:

It no doubt will be a classic, and hopefully the Gophers will be able to advance and move on to take on either Clarkson or Mercyhurst.

Clarkson is the #3 seed in the tournament and advanced with a 3-1 victory over Boston College. The Gophers have an all-time record of 5-0-0 against the Golden Knights. Clarkson comes in averaging 3.59 goals per game, and only gives up a stingy 1.05 goals per game. Senior goalie Erica Howe leads the nation with a 1.03 goals against average and has a 29-5-5 record on the season. Jamie Lee Rattray leads the Golden Knights with 62 points and 28 goals and was named a 1st team All-American Thursday night, and is a finalist like Brandt for the Patty Kazmaier Award.

The Golden Knights will take on Mercyhurst who upset #2 Cornell to advance to the Frozen Four. The Lakers would be the dark horse in the tournament. However they have had some of the most recent success against Minnesota. While the Gophers have a 6-1 record all-time against the Lakers, the most recent game was a 5-4 Gopher loss in the 2009 NCAA Semifinals. The Lakers would then go on to lose 5-0 to the Badgers in the NCAA Title Game. They average 3.39 goals per game and give up on average 1.81 goals per game. Amanda Makela leads the Lakers in goal with a 1.80 goals against average and a just under 93% save percentage. Offensively Mercyhurst is lead by Christine Bestland who has 54 points, 22 goals, and was named a 2nd team All-American Thursday evening.

Meanwhile, the Gophers also continues to pile up awards. Thursday evening both Hannah Brandt and Rachel Ramsey were named 1st Team All-Americans by the American Hockey Coaches Association.

By this honor, it means that both Ramsey and Brandt will be added to the All-American mural on the wall in Ridder Arena. Milica McMillan was honored as a 2nd Team All-American for her play this season as well. Gopher Coach Brad Frost was also named the ACHA's Coach of the Year for the second consecutive season. Saturday in between the NCAA Semi-finals and the Championship game, the Patty Kazmaier Award Banquet will be held. Brandt is one of three finalists for the award, along with Rattray of Clarkson and Jillian Saulnier of Cornell. Brandt will try and bring the trophy back to Minnesota for the second consecutive year as Amanda Kessel won the award last season for the Gophers. The only other Gopher player to win the award was Krissy Wendel in 2005.

The Gophers and the Badgers will face-off at 4:00 PM Central Time. Mercyhurst and Clarkson are scheduled to face off approximately 7:00 PM Central. The two winners will advance to Sunday's National Championship Game which will face-off at 2:00 Central. All of the games will be live streamed for free on NCAA.com. The Gophers free audio feed is here. The Gophers will also have a live blog of their games here.

Stay with us all weekend long here on The Daily Gopher for live blogs, recap posts, coverage of the Patty Kazmaier Award results, and hopefully Sunday's NCAA Championship Game.

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